The Sharks got the wrong first-round opponent. Such is the finding of my unofficial twitterstraw poll, conducted during the Sharks regular-season finale. Roughly 75 percent of respondents and yes,there were more than four believed San Josewas better off against Vancouver than St. Louis. Which is interesting, given that the Canuckssummarily bounced San Josefrom the playoffs last season. Thenagain, maybe thats the rationale it certainly was Jamie Bakers on SharksPregame Live. A little extra motivationnever hurts come playoff time.No matter, much to Bakes and my tweeps chagrin, itsSharks-Blues in round one. On thesurface, Armageddon-in-waiting Team Teal.St. Louiswon all four regular-season meetings, allowing a TOTAL of three goals in theprocess. Yikes.There is a school of thought that suggests past performanceis not necessarily an indicator of future results. Im sure I saw that in the fine print of afinancial management brochure. Or in thecast bios for Celebrity Apprentice.Regardless, that school of thought has pretty much failed when appliedto the Sharks. Two seasons ago, San Jose got blitzed by Chicago during the regular season, then sweptby the Blackhawks in the playoffs. Lastyear, Vancouverowned the Sharks during the regular-season, and you know what happened afterthat. So why should we expect thisgo-round to be any different?Many simply dont.They say Blues in five games.They say St. Louisis too fast, too deep, too stingy, too well-coached, too darn frustrating forthe Sharks to deal with. And they saythat because, well, thats exactly what they saw during the four meetings thisseason.I wish I could argue with that logic, but I cant. I saw the Chicago result coming. I saw the Vancouver result coming. And I have long feared that a St. Louis pairing wouldbe pretty much a disaster. Arguably theworst possible matchup in the entire Western Conference. But then theres this, the one glimmer of hope I can offerto fans (and to my admittedly skeptical self): the Sharks are a different team nowthan the one which last faced St. Louis on March 3rd. Thatteam was in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Thatteam, in fact, lost an incredible 11 out of 13, going 5-34 (14.7) onthe power play during that stretch. That team didnt scoreas many as four goals for 20 straight games.That team managed justone regulation road win in a full months time. Contrast that with the new and improved (really, was thereany other way to go?) version. Fourstraight wins and seven of nine to end the season including gutty,character-revealing road triumphs at Dallas and Los Angeles. Six for the last 20 (30) on the powerplay. Wins over Boston,Detroit, Nashville,Phoenix, and L.A. (twice) in the final three weeks. That said, the Sharks will have to play that well and thensome to win this series. Joe Pavelskiwill have to remain scorching hot. LoganCouture will have to get scorchinghot. Patrick Marleau will have to hitsomebody. And yes, score. (Did I mention San Jose is 18-3-3 this season when Marleaulights the lamp?) TheWinick-Wingels-Desjardins line will have to keep buzzing around in freneticfashion. Marc-Edouard Vlasic will haveto play like the all-star he resembled in the seasons first half. Brent Burns will have to become the force healmost is. Antti Niemi will have to keeppace with the Blues outstanding goalie duo.Put simply, every man will have to bring the energy, the desperation,and (perhaps most importantly against this particular opponent) theattention-to-detail that brought the Sharks back from late-season life supportand got them to within one victory of a division title.Embrace the underdog role, boys. Unfamiliar territory to be sure, but maybe itwill suit you. Jamie Baker thinksso. And I am sure at least 25 of mytweeps agree.
Nearly five months after taking a puck to the mouth that resulted in major damage, Logan Couture is still dealing with the aftereffects of his surgically repaired mouth, which now features several false teeth.
Appearing on the NHL Network this week, Couture was asked how he’s feeling with less than one month to go before the Sharks open training camp on Sep. 14.
“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth.
“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”
Couture was injured on March 25 in Nashville. He was set up just outside the crease in the offensive zone when a Brent Burns point shot hit a stick before squarely battering the now 28-year-old’s mouth.
After missing the final seven games of the regular season, Couture returned for the Sharks’ playoff opener. He managed to play in all six games of the first round loss, posting two goals and one assist for three points, although he struggled at times and was seemingly targeted by the Oilers.
Couture is currently in his hometown of London, Ontario where he’s staging a casino event for brain research. Fellow Sharks Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo will take part, as will other NHL stars like the Kings’ Drew Doughty.
It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.
Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.
From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.
The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.
Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.
What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.
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Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.
The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).
Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.
The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.
Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.
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Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.
Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.
In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.
The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.
It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.
The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.